We pay more attention when someone speaks directly to us. Salespeople know that, so do good writers, speakers, teachers and leaders.
Write Like You Speak, and Speak Directly to Your Audience. Be personal—write or speak directly to your audience, readers, or participants. Although school trained us to be formal and impersonal, it’s better to use direct pronouns: you, me, we, us. I hope you can come to my party! is more inviting than Your presence is requested.
Use examples that make sense to your audience’s age, gender, culture and experience. Relatable examples will clarify your message and keep them engaged.
Teaching & Training Tip: Try to connect new information with what they already know. For example, when teaching about camera lens apertures, I tell my students that an aperture is like a window and they’ll get more light in by having a bigger window or leaving it open longer. This makes a potentially complex idea clear.
Use Short, Active Sentences. Active sentences engage your audience. For example, do and say are active words that let your audience picture themselves doing or saying something. They will put themselves in the picture. Because they are more engaged, they will be more attentive.
- Use a simple sentence structure. For example, He bit the dog is more interesting than The dog was bitten by him.
- Longer sentences can be broken into two or more sentences.
- If you’re writing, keep the paragraphs short; about 3-5 sentences.
Take a Positive Tone. It’s more inviting to tell your reader or audience what to do rather than what not to do. For example: If you want to get fit, exercise regularly is friendlier than Don’t carry extra weight—avoid slothful habits. A positive tone is also easier to understand. For example: No Visitor Parking isn’t very helpful; I know where you don’t want me to park, but where can I park?
A positive tone is also more clear. An international audience may not understand the meaning of a phrase like Don’t hesitate to call us. Because we ignore what we don’t understand, some people will interpret that as Don’t call us. Use a positive phrase instead: Call if you have questions or Please call us.
The Exception: Use a negative tone for warnings and when something’s not true. For example:
- Do not kiss the alligators.
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- I didn’t say you could eat my cake.
- Eating fertilizer won’t make you taller.
Be Conversational. Use the same style you’d use in regular conversation. This is usually easier to understand and more inviting than formal or impersonal styles. Which of the following meetings would you rather attend: (Which one will attract more participants? Which one will attract participants who want to be there?)
- The mandatory annual staff training session will commence at 9:00 o’clock A.M. sharp on the second Tuesday of the month in the regularized location.
- Next Tuesday (June 15th) we’re meeting in the Conference Room at 9am. Free donuts!
Believe in the Beauty of Brevity After you create your document or presentation, review it and see how much you can remove. Do you need each example? Do your personal anecdotes clarify and explain? Would you be interested if it was someone else talking? (It’s easy to forget that you are less interesting to others than to yourself.)
In Summary keep your speech and writing brief, personal and positive. Make the sentences and paragraphs short and active with a clear nouns and verbs. Your readers, audience and participants will appreciate and engage with your wonderful content.